Features on cars are like fashion -- there's always something trendy and expensive to accessorize your ride. But which features are really worth paying for and which ones will you regret buying each time your monthly payment is due?

While being massaged in the rear seats of a Maybach 62S, I began pondering this very question. (This is not just a dream. I really was getting a massage in the private jet-like rear seats of a Maybach 62S -- even if it was just sitting in the parking lot at Fletcher Jones Motorcars in Newport Beach, Calif.)

Standard features on this $400,000+ base price Maybach include those massaging loungers with reclining footrest, TV screens, a refrigerator, fold-out chrome and leather desks and even a suede-lined trash can. Perhaps the only added feature to buy in this gray-and-dark wood beauty is the $30,000 remote-controlled partition.

OK, maybe silver champagne flute holders (standard equipment on every Maybach) will never be standard on any normal car, but I'd like to think front and back electric massaging seats with cooling and heating capabilities should be designed into all cars, right? (*sigh* I guess I'll keep daydreaming, especially every time I practically hurt myself adjusting my driver's seat manually.)

So here's my list of five features to spend your money on and five I think you should kick to the curb.

The Keepers

These features provide better ease of use, comfort, safety and much-needed entertainment:

1. Remote keyless entry: Buy this remote, and you'll no longer fumble for your keys in lousy weather or when your hands are full. Plus, it's always nice to know there's a panic button in case of emergencies.

2. Completely adjustable power seats with lumbar support: This one's a no-brainer. Comfort is king, so upgrade to the most comfortable seats available.

3. Audio controls in the steering wheel: I'm increasingly amazed when even luxury cars I road test don't have audio controls built into the steering wheel. No more leaning over to change stations or volume: This feature is like remote controls for TVs -- no driver should ever be without it.

4. Rearview screen for backing up: Backing up can be pretty scary for many reasons, including better safety for kids, pets and your own bumper. Seniors or anyone with neck or back issues greatly benefit from these eyes in the back of your car.

5. Kick-ass sound system: Think about how much pleasure excellent audio will give you in the years of traffic to come. Get the most outrageous sound system possible.

So, let's move onto today's trendy car options. Are they really worth it? Let's find out.

Kick 'Em to the Curb

These features provide some neat functionality and wow factor, but don't do much for your everyday needs. I suggest you save your money.

1. Built-in car DVD player: For those of you with kids, this is an easy way to keep them quiet on long trips, but drivers without the tots need not apply. Except for the 'Pimp My Ride' factor, these car DVD players don't offer much in the way of functionality while you're actually behind the wheel. An economical alternative is to buy a portable car DVD player, which can be used in any car and on airplanes.

2. In-dash car GPS: Sure the in-dash car GPS system may look cool, but it is just that ... in-dash. Meaning it only offers driving advice in that one car. With a portable Garmin GPS or Magellan GPS unit, you can bring the directions with you in your spouse or friend's car. Plus in-dash car GPS systems can be expensive to repair or replace after your warranty expires.

3. Dolbylike HD radio: Similar to the car GPS and car DVD player above, built-in HD radio options are nice, but more affordable and portable options, such as Sirius' Starmate 4, are more flexible. For only $120, the Starmate 4 records live broadcasts, has in-dash docking capabilities and even gives you game alerts, a wireless FM transmitter and 30 channel presets.

4. Adaptive cruise control: You know we've hit new lows in laziness when we let our cars drive for us! Available on uber-luxury cars like the Mercedes-Benz S-class, this next generation cruise technology uses radar to monitor distance and speed variations of vehicles up ahead and automatically accelerates and decelerates when needed. Just so happens that these are all things you should be doing if you're a responsible driver. Keep the money in your pocket and go on vacation instead.

5. Costly up-and-coming technologies: A host of new safety related options, such as blind spot information and pre-collision warning systems are hitting the market and aim to make your driving experience easier and safer. But like the adaptive cruise control above, these options are supposed to fix issues an alert driver should already be aware of anyway. Instead, put the money toward an advanced driving school or accident avoidance lesson to sharpen your skills and have fun in the process.

Remember, it makes good financial sense to know which options are worth buying today. A little research can go a long way toward both shrinking your monthly payment and to ensuring you spend your money wisely on the best technology for your hard-earned dollars.


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